We asked our contributors to create an underwater “triptych,” and they returned with an artistic range of color, black-and-white and toned compilations, from abstract close-ups to wide-angle shots, featuring a variety of marine life, large and small, as well as divers, on reefs and wrecks, and in open water, lakes, and even an aquarium.
(To see all the images in this feature, please scroll down to the end and download the article PDF.)
Here, X-Ray Mag contributors share their favorite images from the tropical waters of Fiji, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Egyptian Red Sea, Bonaire and the Cayman Islands, to the temperate waters of the US East Coast and California.
Great White Triptych — Not Just Another Portrait
Text and photos by Gary Rose, MD
Often, when I look at shark photography on social media, in magazines, or at many presentations, I have noticed that, although the photos are of interesting sharks and technically excellent, they lack sizzle—the wow factor! Why is that? Most underwater photographers are so caught up in the capture, that they forget about creating a story or an imaginative and artsy photograph, and just photograph the standard side-view portrait. Granted, many underwater photographers have taken a huge step out of their comfort zone, just to dive with and photograph sharks, and are thrilled to bring home a portrait photograph of a shark to share with friends and family. Let’s take it to the next step.
I usually set out on a shark photoshoot with a plan. Once I am in the water, I consider the visibility, lighting and my surroundings—blue water, reef or sand. After a few test shots to maximize the color saturation and balance of negative space (which will frame and not visually distract from my subject), I am ready to shoot.
Photo 1 is an iconic portrait of a great white shark. The viewers’ attention is immediately focused on the huge and jagged teeth, and the bottomless depth of the sinister black eye. Next, the viewer will follow the natural flow along the streamlined body and react to the bulk, and the mating scars, of the great white shark. This portrait is a little more interesting because the shark is slightly at an angle as it was gliding towards me. The intense deep blue of the negative space highlights the magnificent silver and white coloration of the shark.
I was familiar with the groundbreaking artwork by Damien Hirst, featuring a fully preserved tiger shark in a triptych, which was enclosed in glass cases. He rocked the art world in 1991 with this unique creation (ed. – entitled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living). I decided I would try to emulate him—with a great white shark tryptic, on metal.
In the original (Photo 1), the shark tail was abutted against the border of the photograph. To improve the balance of the three panels of the triptych, I added negative-space pixels to the left border (Photo 2). Photos 3 to 6 demonstrate where I made the cuts to preserve the sleek and efficient torpedo-like outline of the shark. Note the slight change between Photo 4 and Photo 5. In the latter, the cut is a couple of inches closer to the snout, maintaining the outline, flow and proportions of the great white. The surface markings of the shark, particularly the countershading at the border of the silver and white coloring, were my road map.
The final relationship of the three panels, and correct spacing between them, is critical. Too much or too little space between the panels creates very unnatural border step-offs and throws off the movement of the viewers’ eye as well as the natural flow from the snout to the tail (Photo 7). The spacing must be correct. An additional bonus of creating a triptych such as this, is that it creates a feeling of the great white shark actually gliding right out of the deep blue. Visit: garyrosephotos.com
Triple Madness: Pizza & Pinwheels
Text and photos by John A. Ares
For the idea of a triptych, I was unsure if I would do a treatment of texture or “Pizzas & Pinwheels.” Sometimes, images contain aspects that can benefit from being repeated several times. The sum of the individual elements can be more interesting than a “documentary” shot. There are books on the subject. To some, these types of rounded multiple images are called “mandalas.”
I have a series of composite photos that lend themselves to abstract interpretation. All of these were enlargements sold individually at auction at the US expo, Beneath the Sea. Being competent with Photoshop compositing is necessary in creating these images. For more on compositing, see my previous article in issue 114.
Photo 1 (left) began life as two photos of a sea anemone in Bonaire. After staring at the images for a while, I realized they could become a “pinwheel.” The two images seem to blend nicely. Art results from your imagination, not getting “the perfect exposure with the perfect camera.”
Photo 2 (center) started all this madness. I took a jellyfish picture in an aquarium. When I looked at the image on the computer, I realized that it vaguely resembled a slice of pizza, and voila—a jellyfish pizza.
Photo 3 (right) was a flatworm shot in Fiji. As with Photo 1, when I stared at the image for a while, I realized it had the elements to become a “pinwheel” as well. Visit: JohnAres.com
Cunningham, L.B. (2020). The Mandala Book: Patterns of the Universe. Union Square & Co.
Text and photos by Sheryl Checkman
For this feature, I chose to get up close to focus on the eyes of three different fish. By cropping into this macro view, the fish eyes become more of an abstraction, with shape, line and color defining each image. Just as each individual fish is different, each eye is unique as well. By isolating the eyes, you can see the differences that make each individual fish unique from the others.
The photo on the left is a close-up of the eye of a spadefish taken at Blue Heron Bridge in West Palm Beach, Florida. There is a clearly defined brown stripe crossing the eye against a silver background. The center shot of a scrawled filefish was taken on a night dive in Alor, Indonesia, on the house reef adjacent to the resort. The blue circles and lines surrounding the eye create the look of an abstract painting, as does the shadow created by the protruding eye socket. And finally, the shot on the right is of a mutton snapper at Nancy’s Cup of Tea dive site in Little Cayman, Cayman Islands.
Each of these close-ups, when seen together, are like three colorful windows into the souls of life beneath the sea. Visit: Instagram.com/sherylcheckman
Olga at Dutch Springs
Text and photos by Larry Cohen
After scuba diving at Dutch Springs in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, my dive buddy, Olga Torrey, and I decided to swim. We removed our dive gear and drysuits; the cold water was invigorating.
We agreed that we should take some photos besides having a relaxing swim. When Olga dived underwater, her flowing hair looked stunning. So, she repeated the dive, and I shot multiple images to get the right look.
The image that showed the old, abandoned smokestacks (of a nearby factory) on the surface was one of my favorite images, so I selected that one first. When processing the RAW file in Lightroom, I loved the color photo, but I also converted it to black and white, and then played with adding colors, so it looked like a toned image.
I was never sure which version I liked better. By creating a triptych, I can use all three. Visit: liquidimagesuw.com
Octopus on the Half Shell
Text and photos by Anita George-Ares, PhD
The coconut octopus is a common and very entertaining resident of Lembeh Strait, located between the Indonesian islands of Sulawesi and Lembeh. While coconut octopuses may be found sheltering in or carrying around coconut halves, they also occupy shells, cans and glass bottles. Coconut octopuses are widely distributed in the Indo-Pacific. I hope to see and photograph this species in a coconut shell one day.
The octopus in Photos 1 and 2 is the same individual. The octopus was constantly moving and changing its position on the shell while I was taking images. In the center image, the shell is nearly hidden by the octopus. Not wanting to stress the octopus, I swam away and found another coconut octopus (Photo 3) that sat quietly in its shell.
I chose these images for a triptych as the octopuses are the same species. They both sheltered in bivalve shells and were found on the same dive. The images have similar backgrounds of volcanic sand. Visit: facebook.com/profile.php?id=100016947967639
Giant Kelp Triptych
Text and photos by Matthew Meier
In thinking about which image or images I would use to create a triptych, I tried to envision what would look best “hung on the wall of a gallery.” That phrase was part of the descriptive instructions for this latest topic in the Contributors’ Picksseries. So, when I started looking through my library, I searched for photos that were worthy of either being hung alone or together as a threesome.
Photo collages seemed more interesting to me than slicing up a single image, so ultimately, I created several themed combinations using either bold colors, specific species or a combination thereof, to come up with half a dozen striking triptychs. There was a trio of orange hairy frogfish; portraits of scorpionfish in red, pink and yellow; and families of clownfish swimming among their purple, red and green anemones.
However, as I could only submit one triptych for this assignment, I decided on similar compositions of giant kelp in shades of blue and green. Two of these photos are already hanging on my wall, so I look forward to rearranging some artwork to highlight this triptych in the near future. Visit: MatthewMeierphoto.com
Text and photos by Brandi Mueller
After a ship sinks in the ocean, it starts to become a new habitat for marine life. I love how much variety an underwater wreck might have. From a distance, it may still be a huge shadow of man-made metal; but as you get closer, the ocean takes over. In the case of the SS Carnatic, in the Red Sea, colorful soft corals adorn the wreck and fish life abounds. This British steamship, built in 1862, ran aground in 1869, and what remains is a beautiful artificial reef. As you get closer and closer, more marine life comes into view. Pipefish swim on the hull, parrotfish feast, anthias swarm, and schools of glass fish fill up the inside of the ship. Focus more closely, and more will come into view. Visit: brandiunderwater.com
Nudibranchs in Malaysia
Text and photos by Olga Torrey
One of my favorite macro subjects to photograph are nudibranchs, also called sea slugs. These colorful creatures are snails without a protective shell. There are over 3,000 species in both tropical and cold waters. Many of them have brilliant colors and eye-catching patterns on their skins. They are often considered some of the most beautiful animals in the world.
I selected three images of nudibranchs that I had photographed in the warm waters of Malaysia and created a triptych of them. I chose photos that showed their various shapes, sizes, colors and patterns. Visit: fitimage.nyc